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ZIMS in Research: EAZA highlights the power of data recorded and shared by zoos and aquariums

Data-driven research is possible thanks to the zoos, aquariums, and wildlife centers that record daily information on the individuals, groups, and enclosures in their care, writes Zjef Pereboom, EAZA Research Committee Chair and Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp Research Manager (Zooquaria, Summer 2023)

Data collection at Paignton Zoo. Credit: Wild Planet Trust.

When the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) dedicated its Summer 2023 issue of Zooquaria to research, several authors took the opportunity to thank zoos and aquariums for contributing much of the data that makes discoveries possible. It is a pivotal role that begins with a disciplined approach.

“Zoo science often does not require full-scale research departments and expensive laboratories. Record-taking is inherent to daily zoo practice, as is using scientific methods…from weighing animals to evaluate their development, using image-based body condition assessments, to assessing reproductive hormones and evaluating enclosure planning and design,” writes Zjef Pereboom, EAZA Research Committee Chair and Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp Research Manager (page 11).

Pereboom points out that EAZA member zoos and aquariums use the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), which is maintained by nonprofit Species360, to ensure the data benefits species care and conservation well beyond their own institutions.

“The excellent record-keeping system in ZIMS allows us to collect and use these data for research purposes and informed decision-making, complemented by supplementary resources such as the EAZA Contraception Database and the EAZA Conservation Database,” says Pereboom.

The impact of that collective data is powerful, says Veronica Cowl, Reproductive Biology Coordinator, Chester Zoo and EAZA Executive Office (page 25).

“More than 1,300 zoos and aquariums across the globe contribute data to ZIMS, with more than 10 million animals recorded in the database in the last 50 years… Data from ZIMS and the Contraception and Biobank databases are key to helping us decipher what ‘normal’ is for the species we manage and for driving evidence-based management,” she writes.

By applying analytics to the data, ZIMS delivers insight that would otherwise not be possible. Veterinarians determine an individual’s vulnerability to disease, preventative care, and treatments deemed successful by others. Species conservation teams map a populations’ survival timeline, evaluate reproduction plans, and identify institutions to host key breeding pairs.

As species face unprecedented levels of extinction, this type of scientific research is critical, says EAZA Executive Director Myfanwy Griffith.

“Now more than ever we need to intensify our research activities across animal and social sciences and beyond. We need to fully expand the ‘with you’ aspect of our EAZA vision to be ‘Progressive zoos and aquariums saving species with you’ and embrace partnerships with universities and other stakeholders. In this way we will ensure that good research continues to inform understanding and decision-making in our zoos and aquariums, and across the whole of society,” writes Griffith (From the Director’s Chair, page 4).

Read more in EAZA’s Zooquaria magazine here.

To learn more about how aquariums and zoos use ZIMS to record and share vital information, check out the ZIMS at Work series.

Another way to help: Send your samples to EAZA Biobank

For EAZA member institutions, Pereboom says, “contributing to science can be as simple as sending your samples to the EAZA Biobank.” There, samples are used to support decision making in conservation programs such as population management and reintroduction of species within EAZA’s Ex situ Programmes (EEPs). For example, ZooPark de Beauval was among the first to use EAZA Biobank to contribute volumes of important data while securing thousands of valuable historic samples.

EAZA’s Summer 2023 issue of Zooquaria showcases landmark discoveries being made by scientists working at the world’s aquariums, zoos, and wildlife refuges. The publication is free for download from EAZA’s website, here,

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